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Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index U > Category: Unfamiliarity

Unfamiliarity Quotes (5 quotes)

Great thinkers build their edifices with subtle consistency. We do our intellectual forebears an enormous disservice when we dismember their visions and scan their systems in order to extract a few disembodied ‘gems’–thoughts or claims still accepted as true. These disarticulated pieces then become the entire legacy of our ancestors, and we lose the beauty and coherence of older systems that might enlighten us by their unfamiliarity–and their consequent challenge in our fallible (and complacent) modern world.
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The enthusiasm of Sylvester for his own work, which manifests itself here as always, indicates one of his characteristic qualities: a high degree of subjectivity in his productions and publications. Sylvester was so fully possessed by the matter which for the time being engaged his attention, that it appeared to him and was designated by him as the summit of all that is important, remarkable and full of future promise. It would excite his phantasy and power of imagination in even a greater measure than his power of reflection, so much so that he could never marshal the ability to master his subject-matter, much less to present it in an orderly manner.
Considering that he was also somewhat of a poet, it will be easier to overlook the poetic flights which pervade his writing, often bombastic, sometimes furnishing apt illustrations; more damaging is the complete lack of form and orderliness of his publications and their sketchlike character, … which must be accredited at least as much to lack of objectivity as to a superfluity of ideas. Again, the text is permeated with associated emotional expressions, bizarre utterances and paradoxes and is everywhere accompanied by notes, which constitute an essential part of Sylvester’s method of presentation, embodying relations, whether proximate or remote, which momentarily suggested themselves. These notes, full of inspiration and occasional flashes of genius, are the more stimulating owing to their incompleteness. But none of his works manifest a desire to penetrate the subject from all sides and to allow it to mature; each mere surmise, conceptions which arose during publication, immature thoughts and even errors were ushered into publicity at the moment of their inception, with utmost carelessness, and always with complete unfamiliarity of the literature of the subject. Nowhere is there the least trace of self-criticism. No one can be expected to read the treatises entire, for in the form in which they are available they fail to give a clear view of the matter under contemplation.
Sylvester’s was not a harmoniously gifted or well-balanced mind, but rather an instinctively active and creative mind, free from egotism. His reasoning moved in generalizations, was frequently influenced by analysis and at times was guided even by mystical numerical relations. His reasoning consists less frequently of pure intelligible conclusions than of inductions, or rather conjectures incited by individual observations and verifications. In this he was guided by an algebraic sense, developed through long occupation with processes of forms, and this led him luckily to general fundamental truths which in some instances remain veiled. His lack of system is here offset by the advantage of freedom from purely mechanical logical activity.
The exponents of his essential characteristics are an intuitive talent and a faculty of invention to which we owe a series of ideas of lasting value and bearing the germs of fruitful methods. To no one more fittingly than to Sylvester can be applied one of the mottos of the Philosophic Magazine:
“Admiratio generat quaestionem, quaestio investigationem investigatio inventionem.”
In Mathematische Annalen (1898), 50, 155-160. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 176-178.
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The historian of science may be tempted to claim that when paradigms change, the world itself changes with them. Led by a new paradigm, scientists adopt new instruments and look in new places. even more important, during revolutions, scientists see new and different things when looking with familiar instruments in places they have looked before. It is rather as if the professional community had been suddenly transported to another planet where familiar objects are seen in a different light and are joined by unfamiliar ones as well.
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962, 2nd ed. 1970). Excerpt 'Revolutions as Changes of World View', in Joseph Margolis and Jacques Catudal, The Quarrel between Invariance and Flux (2001), 35-36.
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The Sun is no lonelier than its neighbors; indeed, it is a very common-place star,—dwarfish, though not minute,—like hundreds, nay thousands, of others. By accident the brighter component of Alpha Centauri (which is double) is almost the Sun's twin in brightness, mass, and size. Could this Earth be transported to its vicinity by some supernatural power, and set revolving about it, at a little less than a hundred million miles' distance, the star would heat and light the world just as the Sun does, and life and civilization might go on with no radical change. The Milky Way would girdle the heavens as before; some of our familiar constellations, such as Orion, would be little changed, though others would be greatly altered by the shifting of the nearer stars. An unfamiliar brilliant star, between Cassiopeia and Perseus would be—the Sun. Looking back at it with our telescopes, we could photograph its spectrum, observe its motion among the stars, and convince ourselves that it was the same old Sun; but what had happened to the rest of our planetary system we would not know.
The Solar System and its Origin (1935), 2-3.
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The truly scientific mind is altogether unafraid of the new, and while having no mercy for ideas which have served their turn or shown their uselessness, it will not grudge to any unfamiliar conception its moment of full and friendly attention, hoping to expand rather than to minimize what small core of usefulness it may happen to contain.
In 'Observation and Experiment and Their Use in the Medical Sciences', British Medical Journal (1930), 2, 129-34. As cited in Edward J. Huth and T.J. Murray, Medicine in Quotations: Views of Health and Disease Through the Ages (2006), 357 and 512.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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- 10 -
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